Thanks to ebay I have finally gotten my hands on a few spools of the mythical Belastraw crochet yarn - er, thread, umm, "stuff " for lack of a better word. Belastraw was the material of choice for a lot of the purse patterns in the 1950's and I've been trying to get a handle on exactly what it was and what's available now that would make a good substitute.
On first sight I was tempted to dismiss it as junky funky plastic yarn. The sort of thing that gave crochet a bad rep back in the 70's. It's pretty thin and bears a definite resemblance to nylon rope. It feels a lot softer though and the little metallic strand running through it makes it kind of pretty. I also remembered that aluminum was a luxury metal when it was first invented and chainmail or mesh purses made of aluminum were much more expensive at the time than the steel ones. Belastraw was the up and coming, fashion forward, gotta have it fiber in its day. Remember, this was not long after WWII and everyone wanted modern. Now we appreciate the wonderfulness of 100% wool or cotton, back then it was old fashioned and synthetics were just way cooler.
Turns out that rayon is made much the same as a spider spins its web. A liquid is extruded (shot out) of spinnerets and becomes filaments, which are then spun together to create the final strand or thread/yarn. Bottom line, it's still a form of synthetic, much like nylon. "Viscose" is not quite the same as "viscous". Viscose is "a thick golden brown viscous solution derived from cellulose and used in the manufacture of rayon and cellophane. Viscous means "having a relatively high resistance to flow", or in a sentence now; Molasses is more viscous than water. (Both definitions are from the American Heritage dictionary)
The photo shows the Belastraw at the bottom with some Red Heart Baby Sport above it. They're roughly the same size and the Red Heart is weight size 3 in the new standards. The label originally said there was 144 yards on the spool but it's been blacked out and 125 yards stamped instead. Judging from the vagrancies in the stamps for color, dye lot and yardage, it looks like some poor person actually stood there with an ink pad marking each spool. How's that for a boring job! At least it was a job, and that's something we all appreciate these days. I'm thinking that just about any 3 yarn will do for a substitute and any with a slight sheen will be better. The belastraw does have that faint plastic glow.